So much had happened in so short a time, Catherine's mind reeled. As organized and efficient at carrying out multiple tasks as she had become in the years since her fateful meeting with Vincent, the past weeks had strained even her capabilities. She relished this small moment of peaceful repose. A mug of William's special herbal tea in hand, she had hidden herself in plain sight and had not...yet...been found -- curled up in Vincent's massive desk chair, she was almost invisible to anyone walking by his chamber entrance. She was content to keep it that way for a little longer. Letting her eyes drift closed, she sought out the lassitude which had been threatening to steal over her.


"Mom?" A timid voice intruded on her consciousness, and she opened one eye to encounter the anxious face of the boy who would soon be her son. "Did I wake you up?"


Smiling indulgently, she shook her head. "Climb up on my lap, Geoffrey, and let's just sit for a minute, shall we?" She set her mug aside and opened her arms to him.


Happy for the invitation, he accepted with alacrity. He'd been feeling somewhat left out these past few days. Lately, every time he'd wanted his Mom's attention, she'd been busy with some aspect of the Joining, the adoption, or their move into their new chambers. So much was being done, and he didn't have much of an active part in any of it. He really just needed a little assurance that his Mom hadn't forgotten him in all the frantic activity. This offer of some quiet time with her was the best thing he could have wished for.


Catherine whispered into his ear, "I'm hiding out for a little bit. If we're both real quiet, maybe no one will notice we're here. What do you think?"


He hugged her close and whispered back, "Sounds good to me."


The welcome weight and warmth of her unexpected visitor soothed her as not even the tea had. She snuggled against him and closed her eyes. Soon, both of them were dozing contentedly. A half an hour later, Vincent entered his chamber to retrieve some schematics Kanin required, but when he saw his beloved and their young one resting companionably, he smiled tenderly and backed out of the chamber. Setting an unlit lantern in the chamber entrance, he returned to Kanin. They'd have to get by without the schematics for a while longer.


_ _ _


The day had been a whirlwind of emotion. The adoption ceremony had been made more special by the exchange of gifts among the new family members. Vincent and Catherine had presented their son with a leatherbound journal, its pages all crisply white and blank, and a silver fountain pen to record his thoughts as he started this new phase of his life. The journal had been handcrafted by his Dad, and the pen was one Catherine's own Father had given her when she'd graduated from law school. He had been overcome by the largesse, and began immediately to compose the thoughts he would set down in his journal later than night.


Geoffrey had shyly offered his new parents matching mugs which he had made with the help of Rebecca and Mary -- each mug bore representations of twined roses, one red and one white. As she held the gift in her hands, Catherine had cried shamelessly, then hugged her son so tightly he thought he would never breathe again.


As poignant as the ceremony was, it was matched and exceeded by the power of the Joining which so many had come to attend. The gathering was larger than any Winterfest in Tunnel history, as virtually everyone who knew Vincent had decided they had to come. The Great Hall was overflowing, both with people and good wishes. No eye remained dry for long as Father began to intone the words of the ceremony. When Vincent and Catherine exchanged their personal vows, several members of the attending crowd could be heard sobbing, moved beyond mere tears by the fervent words spoken by the two people who had overcome such odds to Join together this day.


William had to leave the Hall briefly to gather himself, and Kanin had his hands full with Mary on one side and Olivia on the other, both clinging to his arms so tightly that his hands became numb. He didn't really notice, though, as his own tears fell freely while he watched Vincent and Catherine exchange a long, exquisitely tender kiss. The whole roomful of people held their breath while they looked on, and expelled it in a collective cheer as the couple finally broke the kiss.


The room was so filled with revelers that dancing was impractical. Still, the assemblage willingly squirmed and jostled until a small space was cleared for Vincent to twirl his beloved in a waltz. A sigh rose as the couple, with eyes only for each other, danced as if they were all alone in the Hall.


And with the press of people, almost no one noticed when they finally slipped away.


_ _ _


"I can't tell you how beautiful this is, Vincent!"


He smiled proudly, slightly embarrassed by her effusive appreciation, as Catherine ran her hand lovingly over the old oak roll-top desk which had been salvaged and painstakingly repaired and restored by Vincent as his Joining gift to her. He watched her fingers caress the old wood and suppressed an unreasonable pang of jealousy. Soon enough...she would run her hands over him in that way soon enough.

As she turned to him, his breath caught. Her beauty stunned him anew. In her Joining dress, with the soft mantle of lace adorning her head, she looked like a shimmering goddess come down from on high to bestow her munificent blessings upon him. He knew himself unworthy, but also knew that to tell her this would cause a frown to crease that smooth, bright brow. If he felt undeserving of her love, he also felt sanctified by it, made whole and even beautiful by the fact of it.


"I have something for you, too." She reached into a pocket sewn into her shawl and withdrew a small wrapped parcel. Shyly, she offered it to him.


Reaching for it, his hands shook. She had given him so much already -- her own sweet self most of all. Was he not already the wealthiest man in the world? He unwrapped the gift slowly, peeling away the paper to reveal a small, exquisitely crafted wooden box. The catch on the box was intricate, indicative of old-world artisanship. As he flicked the catch and lifted the lid, the candlelight glinted on what lay within. The rich filigreed gold of an antique fountain pen caught the light, sending sparks of mellow fire into the chamber. His eyes picked out the delicate etching -- roses, cascades of roses on a vine. He looked up at his Bondmate with tears in his eyes. "It is...too much, Catherine!"


She took the box and pen from his trembling hands, setting them beside her on the desk. Then she grasped his hands and kissed them tenderly. "Nothing is too much for you, my beloved. Nothing." Her fervent avowal pierced him anew with a love so fierce and all-encompassing, he closed his eyes to savor it. When he opened them again, it was to find himself in her arms. "Take me to bed, my love," she begged.


Lifting her gently in his arms, he waited while she unpinned the mantle covering her soft brown hair and dropped it onto the desk. Slowly, carefully, he carried her into their bedchamber and set her down. There, they both stood amazed, gazing at the dozens of candles which flickered and glowed everywhere, and at the profusion of roses which covered their bed and overflowed onto the rug below. They looked at each other then, smiled, and said as one, "Kanin and Olivia."


Still smiling, overwhelmed by the beauty of the lights and the flowers, they began to undress each other, taking their time, savoring the moment. This night, more than any other before or to come, was the true culmination of their cherished Dream. For long years, Destiny had held them in the palm of its hand...only to finally deposit them safely on this shore. Now it was up to them...their fate, their future, was entirely within their own hands now. And with those hands, they began to love one another.